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About the author:
I grew up in County Westmeath, Ireland. I have a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Sciences and I work part-time in the field of solid organ transplantation. I now live on a farm in County Longford with my husband and our three children.
What inspired you to write your book?
On the whole, I found the subject matter of ‘Alice-Rose’ very easy to work with for a number of reasons – I am passionate about old houses, I value family highly and I was lucky enough to have a number of close friendships to draw upon for inspiration when it came to writing about the dynamics, and the rewards, of a long-lasting one.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Sample from Book:
It was one of those special, crisp, golden days of autumn. The air was heavy with promise, and I felt the knot of anxious excitement tighten in my stomach. I pushed open the tall cast-iron gates and began the long walk upwards, entirely alone except for bramble, brush, and briar.
I wondered about all the changes that I was sure to find and whether or not that day would deliver Alice-Rose into my future or consign her to the past forever. When courage almost failed me, one thing drove me onwards—the knowledge that a single glimpse of the old house would be enough to reveal whether or not we belonged together.
At last, I rounded the head of the avenue, and I saw it again, dignified and largely unchanged. Time and neglect had not prevailed; the heart of Alice-Rose was waiting for me. It was our time.
Alice-Rose, named after the daughter of the estate’s original owner, was the place of my dreams, and on that morning two years ago, I felt a sense of belonging as strong as if I had been returning to my childhood home. It was the twenty-fifth of October. I remember the date clearly because it was my twenty-ninth birthday, and I was coming from my parents’ house, having started the day there with a family breakfast.
While driving along the boundary wall of the Alice-Rose estate, heading in the direction of Ballyedmond, I saw a man preparing to erect a sign at the entrance up ahead. I was transfixed by the scene. Instinctively, I jammed on the brakes, giving no consideration to safety, my own or anybody else’s. Luckily, the road behind me was clear, and I ground the car safely to a halt some six inches away from the man’s shins. My near victim turned out to be Dan Bryant, a well-known estate agent from the locality.
Although Mr Bryant wasn’t in the first flush of youth by any stretch of the imagination, he was still handsome. Besides his distinguished good looks, Dan Bryant was tall and solid and had all the appearance of someone who was doing well for himself. On that particular day, even while undertaking an exercise that involved no small amount of effort, he was flawlessly turned out in a pinstriped suit and a wool overcoat. I did, at the time, privately question the wisdom of his attire, but ultimately, I was more fascinated by the significance of his task than I was in his choice of clothing. Could it be that Alice-Rose was finally for sale?
‘Is he selling it?’ I asked abruptly, my thoughts spilling out in a way that managed to state the obvious and convey an attitude of absolute rudeness in one simple sentence.
I wasn’t usually so blunt or so unfriendly, and I immediately regretted my approach.
‘Hello,’ Dan Bryant grunted, landing a blow of a sledgehammer to the post. ‘Yes, she’s on the market as of today, and she’s a beauty!’
Despite his exertion, there was fervour in his voice and a little wistfulness, if I hadn’t imagined it.
‘I know,’ I agreed, a little more warmly but with an assurance intended to convey to him that I knew ‘her’ worth.
‘If I was a young man starting out,’ he continued undeterred, ‘I would do all in my power to buy her.’ He spoke with conviction as he prepared to land the post another blow. ‘But,’ he added, ‘she’s a place that needs a young family to bring her back to life.’
He looked directly at me as he said this, and his expression caused me to wonder what exactly he was thinking. Although I felt a momentary twinge of irritation at the personal nature of his comment, I was far too interested in the sale of Alice-Rose, to allow his unsolicited opinions to distract me from my quest.
‘I must see her again,’ I said, leaving Dan Bryant to his own assessment of what Alice-Rose might, or might not, need.
My heart was beating fast, and my head was buzzing as I tried to do the math, but deep down I felt certain that I was in a position to buy the place. I marched with determination up the curving avenue, diligently ignoring the butterflies dancing in my stomach. The lawns on either side were overgrown and tangled with grass and brambles so that the tall and ancient oaks appeared to scarcely have trunks. The very course that I stood on was growing narrower by the day as its borders threatened to engulf it. The post and rail fencing beyond the knotted mass of vegetation was broken and sagging and had the verdant hue of moss and mould. It was difficult to reconcile the shabbiness and neglect that lay before me then with the Alice-Rose of my childhood.
As I walked on and witnessed further the prevalence of nature that without intervention would eventually return Alice-Rose to an uncombed wilderness, I became filled with an even greater determination to succeed in my mission to buy it. When, at last, I rounded the curve of the avenue that brought face-to-face with the limestone beauty of the great house, I stood and looked for all of two seconds before turning on my heel to beat a hasty retreat.
Dan Bryant was about to get into his car just as I reached the gates, and I hesitated for an instant, slightly embarrassed by my earlier brusqueness. Then steeling myself, I called out, ‘Mr Bryant!’ He looked up, his surprise at seeing me so soon again quite evident. It occurred to me then that he had probably been trying to ‘beat a hasty retreat’ of his own. After all, who, given half a chance, wouldn’t try to avoid a rude, crazy
woman? Nevertheless, Dan Bryant was nothing if not professional, and he did not allow any trace of disappointment to show as he turned towards me, smiling openly.
‘Yes, Miss… ,’ he said, hesitating.
‘Libby Finn, Mr Bryant,’ I said, making no pretence at not knowing his name and extending my hand to shake his. ‘But please call me Libby.’
We shook hands as he acknowledged that he had in fact recognised me. His handshake was dry and firm.
‘I know your father well, Libby,’ he said pleasantly. I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t elaborate.
‘I’m sorry I was so rude earlier,’ I apologised, by then genuinely repentant for my earlier manner. ‘I’m not usually so abrupt.’
Dan Bryant waved aside my concerns, but I felt obliged to explain myself.
‘My only justification I’m afraid, is that I got a shock when I saw you putting Alice-Rose on the market.’ The excuse sounded lame, even to my own ears.
Dan nodded in a gesture of understanding, but I knew that he couldn’t possibly guess at the depth of my passion for Alice-Rose. I also imagined that he must have been thinking how easy it was to ‘shock’ me, and that I needed to get better control of my emotions if an everyday occurrence such as that one elicited such rudeness in me!
‘I’ve always loved Alice-Rose, and I want to ask you some questions if I may?’ I said, before thinking better of my presumption that Dan Bryant would stoop to be at my immediate disposal. ‘I mean I need to make an appointment to see you.’
So far, the man had done nothing to offend me, and I had been abrupt to the point of insolence, not to mention having almost run him over!
‘That won’t be necessary, Libby, and please call me Dan,’ he said, smiling at me in a way that could only be described as heart-stopping. I did actually think of Dan Bryant and heart-stopping in the same sentence despite the fact that the man was old enough to be my father!
‘I could give you a tour now if you like,’ he continued, ‘even though it sounds like you already know the place very well. We can talk as we go.’
‘That would be fantastic, Dan!’ I shrilled, before he could change his mind.
I was overjoyed at being able to avail of an immediate tour of Alice-Rose, and I was hopeful that by the end of it I would know a lot more about a number of things, including what the owner’s expectations were in terms of a price. At that point, I didn’t even know how much of the property was for sale.
‘I spent a lot of time up here with my father when I was a child,’ I went on, attempting to shed some light on my personal interest in the estate.
‘I see,’ Dan said solemnly, but I could tell that he had some doubts. ‘I hope you won’t be disappointed, Libby. I’m sure some changes have taken place since then.’
Maybe, but I intend to buy Alice-Rose if I can,’ I said firmly. I didn’t want Dan Bryant in any doubt as to what my intentions were.
‘Not just the house,’ I insisted, ‘but all of it. Do you understand what I mean?’
‘Yes,’ he acknowledged earnestly. ‘I think I do.’
I wasn’t sure whether or not he was mocking me, but I didn’t care; my only concern at that point was for Alice-Rose. As I watched Dan Bryant fetch a pair of wellington boots from his car, I found myself wondering if I could actually go out with a man who drove a Mercedes. I had always equated the make with the older generation, but suddenly I found myself reconsidering my long held view. These thoughts were followed by others that raised even more improbable questions. Did Dan Bryant wear pyjamas to bed? Was Dan Bryant still interested in sex? Just how old was Dan Bryant anyway?
My imagination was brought into check by the realisation that this man was in all probability married. I allowed myself a discreet glance at his left hand. Yes, there it was in all its glory, one large gold wedding band. I wasn’t at all surprised, but, nevertheless, I had to admit to feeling more than a little disappointed. The aphorism ‘the good ones are always taken’ came to mind, and I was left feeling slightly deflated as I tried to remember who I had last heard quoting those particular words of wisdom. Probably Jules, I decided finally. Jules Mahon was my best friend and a reliable harbinger of all tales cautionary and wise.
‘Hello? Libby?’ Dan’s voice broke deliberately into my thoughts. I had fallen into a state of reverie, the likes of which had become unfamiliar to me. I couldn’t recall the last time I had speculated romantically about a man, but I knew that I hadn’t done it since Max’s death. I had to admit that it felt pretty good, and I felt alive in a way that I hadn’t been sure I ever would again. I inhaled deeply and smiled unashamedly.
‘Sorry, Libby. I thought you were miles away,’ he apologised. ‘I didn’t mean to shout.’
Dan Bryant looked at me with a mixture of concern and slight bewilderment, and I realised that I had never before, in my whole life, felt such an instant attraction to a man.
‘You didn’t shout, Dan,’ I said. ‘I was miles away. But I’m back now. I’m finally back in the land of the living.’
An indisputable look of realisation crossed his face, and it became clear that, despite our very different appearances, Dan Bryant had mistaken me for my younger sister.
Starting up towards the house again with Dan Bryant by my side, I anticipated viewing Alice-Rose with renewed hope. I observed undeterred the neglect and decay that had befallen her with the passing of time. These things paled into insignificance when compared to the brilliance of sheer blue sunshine filtered through the branches of a giant oak or the glimpse of a perfectly rounded porthole on the gable end of a cut-stone barn.